In some circles, the invocation of "jazz vocals" runs only slightly behind "lite funk" as an excuse to utter "no thanks." If that's an accurate summary of your attitude, you'll want to work against muscle-memory here. Gretchen Parlato sings with a delicate touch — she doesn't favor much vibrato or tricky, endless strings of scatted syllables — though the wealth of detail in her timing and dynamic range makes for an interesting contrast alongside that breathy tone. (If at first her approach seems a little too breezy-easy, just give it a sec.)
One telling moment comes just past the three-minute mark of Wayne Shorter's "Juju" — here outfitted with words by Parlato. As the subtle, introductory statement of the theme pivots toward an expressive middle section, she unleashes a steady beam of E-flat to match Dayna Stevens's flights of tenor sax. Then she holds it, while Stevens swings around the note. It's an exposed, confident sound — one that puts to rest any debate over Parlato's maybe being a lightweight. By the time her "Juju" closes, with a reprise of its whispered origins, the take has the effect of a well told yarn: there is a sense of some satisfactory distance having been traveled. (Parlato's own tunes provide similar opportunities for flexibility. Check Kendrick Scott's restless drum outro on "How We Love.")
Contemporary piano whiz Robert Glasper co-produced this record, and you can hear traces of his hip-hop-fusion "Experiment" group in the sonics here. His work lets in just the right amount of edge (or worldbeat, as on "Alo Alo") — which is to say, not much at all. Though when that edge comes, it's a welcome virtue all the same, reminiscent of the peppery finish to a smooth drink.